Tuesday, May 26, 2015

duct tape

A year and a half ago, I invited some friends to guest blog about a day in their lives. I’m always curious about the nitty-gritty of how people make things work. My mantra lately has been Everyone’s life is secretly held together with duct tape. Since today was my first official day as a full-time working mom,* I am currently interested in how I’m going to make things work. Specifically, when will I write? My options seem to be 5:30 am, lunchtime or 8:30 pm. None of these slots is ideal, but today I’m trying out the latter. And I’m easing into it with a Blog As You Are post of my own because that’s all. I. Can. Manage.

6:05 am: Wake up with pan dulce hangover from yesterday’s mini shindig in our backyard. Vow that this time I really, really will take care of my body. Wonder not for the first time if there is a 12-step group for people who eat well seven days out of eight but then really, really fuck shit up on the eighth day.

Feed cats.

Feed baby.

Feed self.

8:10 am: Congratulate self for running a little bit early. Discover poopy diaper and cease to run early.

Change Dash. Drop him off at Mary’s house.

8:55 am: Stop at 7-Eleven for coffee.

Their French Vanilla flavor is neither French nor particularly vanilla-y.
9:10 am: Walk from car to Homeboy, along the old cobblestones lining Bruno Street. Feel incredibly grateful for all this—the job I don’t mind returning to, the baby I can’t wait to return to, the esposa, the city.

10 am: Work on proposal to Boeing Foundation. When things flow, grant-writing can be fun.

Banh mi and jeggings.
12:30 pm: Comb the indoor swap meet nestled between Spring and Broadway in Chinatown in search of leggings. Find only jeggings and a lot of fabric that seems highly flammable.

Eat salad (salad!) on bench in Chungking Plaza. Start reading Dr. Mutter’s Marvels. It’s both a guilty pleasure and a well researched nonfiction book. Think about the library book I’ve been reading forever without returning. Wonder when library will send me to collections.

My mid-day fix.
1:15 pm: Stop in Homegirl Café for coffee.

2 pm: Take stock of work to-do list. It’s not that bad. I can totally do this!

It’s pretty daunting. I can’t do this!

Drink coffee. I can do this.

2:30 pm: Work on report to the Sawchuk Family Foundation.

Work on proposal to the Sawchuk Family Foundation.

Feel inspired to maximize productivity at work because otherwise I’m away from Dash for no reason at all.

4 pm: Witness minor controversy involving which trainees get to see Galaxy play. Vaguely recall that Galaxy is soccer.

5 pm: Leave work feeling a little self-conscious about not staying later.

5:40 pm: Greet Mary and Dashaboo outside her house. He adores her. He laughs and laughs. Feel so, so grateful and just a teensy bit jealous.

Dash's mommy is no Idina Menzel.
6 pm: Dash and Mommy Time. I read somewhere that four-month-olds are trying out their voices and it’s good to hear their parents sing, even if their parents happen to be horrible singers. Pull up Wicked on iTunes. Sing along with “Popular” and “For Good.” Dash seems to prefer being lifted in the air while I sing “Dashman” to the tune of the Batman theme song.

7 pm: Talk to sister on the phone while putting jammies on Dash. She’s worried about her cat. Dash starts to cry. Tell her I’ll call her back.

7:10 pm: Try a bunch of different positions for possible rocking/swaying. Dash is grouchy. Eventually nestle him between legs on floor, petting his head while he watches his mechanical, musical ocean mobile, a.k.a. Baby TV. Wonder if this is okay parenting because aren’t you supposed to be developing a short but consistent bedtime routine? The mobile hasn’t been part of my routine until this minute.

7:30 pm: Put sleepy Dash in swing. Think about article that said never let a baby sleep in a swing. Or a bouncer. Or a car seat. According to this article, naps are not for resting yourself or getting things done. Naps are for watching your baby carefully to make sure he’s not getting strangled by a strap designed to keep him safe.

7:35 pm: Call back sister. Say insufficiently comforting things. The intricacies of family anxiety dynamics are…intricate.

Fold baby laundry.

8 pm: Make smoothie in living room so as not to wake up Dash. Apologize to cats, because it’s not like they like the blender either. Put smoothie in fridge for tomorrow. Consider this “cooking.”

8:30 pm: Microwave leftover beans and eat with salsa.

8:40 pm: Read thread on Longest Shortest Time Mamas FB group about how to unwind without wine. Feel suspicious of moms who say they do yoga and meditate at the end of a long day.

9:10 pm: Finally start this post.


*That word still sounds so loaded to me. Like, who am I to crown myself? Or it sounds like the beginning of some obnoxious identity-politics statement: “As a mom, I [care about the Earth/want to outlaw soda/think queers shouldn’t get married, etc.].” But I’ll keep trying it on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

that not-so-fresca feeling

Well, I gave Kathy’s prompt (“Fresca”) a try, and I almost liked what I wrote. I read up on Fresca soda online and learned that it was sweetened with cyclamates, which were banned in 1969, because studies in rats suggested that a human who consumed 350 cans of Fresca a day might have an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Corinthians 1 restaurant knows how to party.
I had this idea for a story about someone who’d grown up with a birth defect because her mother had been addicted to Fresca while pregnant. But because a Fresca addiction is so absurd, she tells everyone she’s a thalidomide baby. Then she meets a real thalidomide baby and gets in trouble.

I’m still sort of into that idea, but I didn’t like my story enough to post it. The tone has to be just right in a story like that. For a while now I’ve been interested in the idea of genuine tragedy that is the result of an absurd event. Like, what if you lost someone you loved because an actual anvil fell on them? What would you tell people? How would you process your real grief while acknowledging that you lived in a cartoon? I think this is part of a larger motif in my thinking, where I’m always weighing my own dumb animal emotions against my awareness of my place in some (imagined?) narrative.

D'oh!
So that’s the story I didn’t quite write. This is my last week of part-time maternity leave. Our amazing friend Mary is watching Dash three days a week; they chill out in her garden, Mary’s Boston terrier licks Dash’s toes, and last week Mary made cookies for us. In June, Dash will start daycare at a place I feel good about, although I doubt they’ll make us cookies.

I’m going to miss having so many daylight hours with Dash, for sure. I’m a little worried about just how exhausted I might be once I start working twice as much, given how exhausted I already am.

Will I ever write again? That right there is my insecurity shifting, from worrying that the identity of “mom” is beyond my grasp to worrying that “writer” is. The difference is that I have all this weird pathology about the former, and with the latter, I just have the very mundane problem that nearly all writers have, which is a lack of time to write and submit work. I’ll get through it. Probably.

I’m looking forward to having a routine. Our daily baby relay, in which Dash is the baton, is maddening at times. I’m proud of myself for becoming someone who can more or less roll with the punches, but I still long to not get punched for a while.

I’m looking forward to seeing my Homeboy coworkers more regularly. I’m looking forward to spending less time in clothes spotted with half-digested formula—although that’s a clichĂ© I take a strange pride in. In a cautious way, I’m looking forward to simply enjoying the day-to-day of a life I’ve worked my ass off to inhabit (while acknowledging that working my ass off was just a small piece of the puzzle).

Here’s to the next phase. Picture me raising a can of Fresca.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

still lucky

The audience-participation component of my Ask Me a Question/Give Me a Prompt series hasn’t totally panned out (although it’s not too late, Breadketeers!), so today I borrowed one from Brian Kiteley’s The 4 a.m. Breakthrough. In my case, it’s more like the 5 a.m. Just Write Something.

Write a short piece of fiction that depends on a character’s precise perception of or reaction to the color red.

We pulled our van up to the white-curbed loading zone, that sacred space, at noon. Gomez was driving and being a dick. He was usually a pretty kick-back guy, but something about Sunset Boulevard and all its valets darting into lanes like deer brought out the worst in him. He’d been shouting at the windshield since La Cienega.

“You think you can haul the carpet up all these stairs, Shannon?” We all called each other by our last names, and Shannon was mine, but when Gomez said it, it sounded like a first name. A girl’s name. And that’s fine, I am a girl, but he made it sound like a bad thing.

“Did the traffic make you extra sexist?” I said.

“What, I’m looking out for you.”

Gomez was from New York. One of the boroughs, I don’t know which. I was from Bakersfield. If you’re not from L.A., you might think Bakersfield was the equivalent of a borough, but the mountain range between the cities makes all the difference in the world. When you drive over the Grapevine, praying your brakes don’t fail, and you see the city below like a handful of fairy dust in God’s cupped palm, you think anything is possible. It’s not like that going in the other direction.

Gomez popped the doors and there were the rolls of carpet. They reminded me of those little scrolls of paper they used to sell at the supermarket checkout counter when I was a kid. I always asked my mom for one, because they looked like maps to tiny treasures, and she always told me to stop messing around and let her concentrate on her coupons and which credit card to use.

A woman in tight pants and a black blazer in some kind of nice fabric clacked our way. Who would wear heels during this part of the event? I was kind of envious, though. I was wearing my old Pumas. She had a clipboard and a headset and acted like you’d expect.

“Start up there by the doors, and hurry, because E! just said they want some shots of set-up.”

“Hear that, Shannon, this is gonna be your big break,” Gomez said.

I’d made the mistake of telling him I came here to be an actress. We’d had drinks after work one day. I told him how for a while I’d spelled my name Hayleigh instead of Haley. He tried to grind his crotch into the side of my leg when he hopped down off the bar stool. I made him drive me home in the company van, and I lay awake that night wondering if he’d get a DUI as he headed back over the hill.

The headset woman wrinkled her nose at me. I’d seen that look enough times to know what it meant: that she wasn’t expecting to see an almost-pretty white female on this side of things. The set-up side. But also that she didn’t really want to see anyone at all on the set-up side. Anyone who had to be here before 5 pm was a tax on her eyeballs.

Gomez and I are almost the exact same height—he’s short for a guy and I’m average for a girl—so we’re a good team in that way. We each took an end of the first roll and jogged up the shallow stairs to the doors of the auditorium. The velvet ropes were already set up, so we had lines to color between.

“Gary, let’s get a shot of them rolling out the red carpet,” said a reporter, maybe the person from E! She super skinny, like she’d tried to diet away the shape of her face, and she wore a strapless red gown that didn’t allow her to take big steps.

In my Pumas and leggings and hoodie, I could have done cartwheels. All of a sudden, I felt free. When I was a kid I did cartwheels every chance I got. The park, the mall when it wasn’t crowded. I’d seen a TV movie about a girl who got discovered as a gymnast in Communist Romania, and I was always hoping that the coach who’d whip me into shape was just chilling outside Wet Seal.

Almost like we’d choreographed it, Gomez and I squatted down and gave the roll a shove to get it started. It’s heavy stuff, rubberized at the bottom, so you have to push it the whole way. Red is a terrible color for carpet, but so is every other color, if you think about it. Can you picture “green-carpet glamour”? Black carpet? Blue? And white would get filthy.

It was starting to get hot already. I guess that’s why award season was winter. Anything later in the year and people’s makeup would melt off. I unzipped my hoodie and flung it over a velvet rope.

On the radio the day before, I’d heard a thing about an opening at the Costume Institute in New York, for an exhibit about Chinese something-or-other. Costumes, I guess. A lot of the invitees wore red. For luck. Rihanna wore canary yellow. I wondered if Chinese people still thought of red as a lucky color, since it was also the color of communism, and that didn’t seem to be working out so well.

As we headed back to the van for the second roll, Gomez chattered at me about the strip club he went to last night. For some reason he thought I liked to hear that shit. At least he wasn’t star-struck like some of the people at our company. He liked tits and he didn’t care who they belonged to.

I tuned him out and let myself daydream, just for a second, about what I’d wear. Not black—too boring. Not red, because of possible clashing with the carpet. I’m a blonde, so I couldn’t pull off yellow. White is too bridal. Maybe blue-green. Something with a little sparkle but nothing too showy.

“This one Mexican chick with these, like, retro kind of tattoos, I could tell she had a thing for me,” Gomez was saying.

“Keep telling yourself that,” I said.

“And she had those straight-across bangs and fishnets,” Gomez said. “Man, I fucking love that look.”

“China is still communist, right?” I asked.

“In name only,” he said. I could tell he’d heard that somewhere and was repeating it.

“So it’s kind of like a compromise,” I said, “between communism and…freedom, or whatever.”

We reached the van and hauled out the second roll. They get soft when they’re warm, and it drooped now when we carried it. It would probably take five or six rolls to reach from the auditorium to the sidewalk. We’d come back tomorrow and roll it all back up. There would be oily footprints and gum, and it would be hot, and tourists would look at us and be glad they didn’t have our jobs. It’s okay. I probably wouldn’t want their jobs either.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

if a blog falls in a forest

For the first installment in my Ask Me a Question/Give Me aPrompt series, loyal reader #7, Fresca, asks:

Why do you continue to blog in this era of FB, tweets, etc.? (I used to blog a lot, mostly went away for a couple years, came back and am interested in who else has stayed/come back/started blogging. It feels so...old fashioned!)

Like somebody famous said (Joan Didion? Or maybe she was the one who said “Take Fountain”), I write to figure out what I think. When AK and I fight, it’s not unusual for me to send her a text or email later in the day to sort out my thoughts. I’m sure she loves it.

As a writer of mostly fiction (at least until my memoir-in-progress cropped up), the blog is a nice place to sort through my thoughts on such nonfiction miscellany as Depressing Things In The News, My Various Neuroses, God, Books and Really Bad Reality TV. Not necessarily in that order. Probably in the opposite of that order.

Remind me to tell you about Marriage Bootcamp: Bridezillas, and how I'm ashamed to admit I saw a bit of myself in crybaby Kirsten, who was always taking a stand about her own alleged niceness.
I started this blog in 2005 (!) partly to do things that Twitter and Facebook now do—share goofy videos and promote cultural stuff I like. So you won’t see me promoting readings I’m excited about or posting that video where the guys in bellbottoms reunite with the lion they raised. These days, I appreciate that blogs can do what social media can’t, which is act as a venue for long-form text. You could argue quite convincingly that long-form text is on its way out, but for me it’s the only way to share certain things.

Recently I read an article defending (rightly, I believe) a writer whom people had criticized for Tweeting about her slow death from cancer. The article pointed out that despite its reputation for being curated and “not real,” social media is super-extra-real in the way it compresses all the extreme and mundane parts of our lives into one screen. In any given feed today, you might see Baltimore, Nepal, someone’s illness, someone’s baby, someone’s lunch. The internet reminds us that they all exist in the same world, however cacophonous and unsettling the juxtaposition might be. The world itself is cacophonous ad unsettling.

I agree that if you want to Tweet about dying of cancer, you can and should. It’s a brave and needed act. But if you want to provide context and thoughtfulness, as certain topics demand (for me), long-form still wins. Therefore when it came to my own (non-terminal…knock on wood) cancer diagnosis, I never announced it on Facebook. I also didn’t announce the recent birth of mykid on Facebook. I blogged about it and linked. Whether they’re categorically sucky or miraculous, big life events usually deliver a truckload of emotion, and I want to capture it all.

I am a fan of the cute-stuff-on-the-butt trend in children's fashion.
I think most writers—maybe even the experimental ones, in their own way—strive for honesty, and I like to think that my blog provides a bit of that. Facebook can be such a Museum of Look at My Own Awesomeness. Of course a blog is a curated experience too, but at least it doesn’t reduce life to Yay! and Boo! quite so severely. Here on Bread and Bread, I can tell you that I took an amazing trip to New Zealand, but that it was punctuated by adoption-related anxiety and angst. Or I can tell you that I saw [insert name of pretentious artist retrospective here], but I didn’t really enjoy it because I crammed in too many other things that day. Or maybe I was diagnosed with cancer but am feeling a lot of love and hope sprinkled in with my despair. Long-form makes those things just a little bit more transparent.

Have I succeeded in making my long-winded navel-gazing sound like a noble and political act? Then my work here is done.

Other questions/topics/creative writing prompts to keep me writing this month? Leave ‘em in the comments.